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Star Wars The Last Jedi - Film Review

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by Adrian Kmita (subscribe)
Writer and Osteopath. A Sydneysider traveling the world solving life's puzzles. instagram.com/AdrianKmita
An in-depth review of Star Wars Episode VIII
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

After a two year long hiatus, the epic intergalactic saga of Star Wars returns to screens across the globe. This time, the next instalment of the franchise is Episode VIII, the aptly titled The Last Jedi. The film sees the return of heroine Rey and the lovable BB-8, along with ex-stormtrooper Finn and fighter pilot Poe Dameron, as they embark on an adventure to defeat the evil First Order. The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens left off, continuing the story of Rey on her journey to rendezvous with the legendary Luke Skywalker. Things don't go according to plan however, when Skywalker indicates his reluctance to join her cause, now resembling a strange shadow of his former self. Luke has been in hiding since the fall of his Jedi order courtesy of his former student Ben Solo, now the dark apprentice Kylo Ren. It becomes Rey's mission to bring Luke back from his self-imposed exile and subsequently return hope to the galaxy.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

On this occasion, Lucasfilm calls on the writing and direction of Rian Johnson, with The Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams moving to executive producing duties. Johnson creates a complex plot that attempts to emulate the best of the original trilogy. This is clearly seen throughout the movie, with parallels to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi being undeniable. At the same time, Johnson attempts to reinvent the wheel, taking the story in a fresh and original direction. Unfortunately for Lucasfilm and Disney, quite a few of the bold creative choices completely miss the mark. This will leave many fans of the original trilogy disappointed, as their favourite characters are taken on a trajectory that is incongruent with their extremely well-established origins. For the most part though, the movie has a fantastic narrative drive along with stellar visual effects and production design. This is complemented by some fabulous acting performances, particularly from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley.

The Plot

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

The Last Jedi begins at a frantic pace with The Resistance finding themselves in a dire predicament, as the First Order continues their relentless pursuit to destroy them. The film begins with the First Order launching an attack on the last remaining Resistance base in the galaxy, with the intention of wiping out the rebellion for good. Much like the early moments of The Empire Strikes Back, the Resistance formulates a plan to escape the base utilising their remaining transports. A raging space battle ensues leaving the Resistance with extensive losses. This is directly due to some overzealous decisions made by the cocky Poe Dameron. As a consequence, the Resistance is forced to outrun the First Order and the dark legions of Supreme Leader Snoke if they are to survive.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

The plot thickens however, as the remaining rebels discover they're being tracked. This means they are unable to escape through "Hyperspace". Suffering further devastation as a result, and with combat no longer being an option, Finn and Poe Dameron devise a plan to sever the First Order's tracking ability. With the help of Finn's new acquaintance, the optimistic rebel mechanic Rose, the group embark on a quest to find a "code breaker" on the casino world of Canto Bight. From here the plot intercuts between the three main heroes, again much in the mould of 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. We first follow Finn and Rose, along with their counterpart BB-8, as they attempt to escape the morally corrupt casino planet unscathed. Simultaneously Poe and Princess Leia strive to hold the Resistance together, keeping just out of range of the First Order's military wrath. Meanwhile, Rey must channel all the power at her disposal to bring back what she has learned from Luke Skywalker and the Force, leading her to face Kylo Ren and the vengeful Supreme Leader Snoke.

The Characters

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Mark Hamill finally makes his long-awaited return to the big screen as the formidable Jedi master Luke Skywalker. Episode VIII sees the continuation of his story following the events of 1983's Return of the Jedi. In an unfortunate turn of events, the Luke Skywalker that audiences knew and loved from the original trilogy no longer exists in The Last Jedi. In his place is a weary and irrational individual who is unrecognisable for a lot of the movie. Rian Johnson's script omits most of the aspects that fans loved about Luke Skywalker from the original trilogy in an attempt to create something different, in addition to maintaining a focus on the new cast. It's a perplexing decision, especially considering interest in the new trilogy was fueled by the audience's desire to discover what happened to the original characters. The plot establishes Luke as sour and pessimistic following Ben Solo's turn to the dark side. As a result, he has decided to remain in exile out of a sense of guilt, coming to the conclusion that the Jedi should end. It is a story arc that is completely incongruent with the elements that defined him in the original trilogy. Luke's manic behaviour is all the more irrational considering the events of Return of the Jedi, which establish his ability to receive guidance from the Force through intermediaries such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

In spite of these negatives, Mark Hamill depicts the ageing hero masterfully, creating magic out of a series of poorly conceived creative choices. He is arguably the best part of the film, bringing a fabulous poise to the production along with familiar nuances that only Hamill can deliver. His interaction opposite R2-D2 and Chewbacca is fabulous to witness, making each character feel all the more alive through his immensely believable rapport. It also has to be said that most of his problematic character arc seems to be rectified during the end of the final act. The sequence of events sees Luke Skywalker coming into his own in the most formidable fashion. It is a scene that lights up the screen, demonstrating all that Luke has become since we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. By this point in the story, however, it feels too little, too late. In essence, Mark Hamill's brilliance is tremendously underutilised throughout the movie. The Last Jedi would have been much better served bringing Luke Skywalker back in the mould of Alec Guinness' Obi Wan Kenobi, essentially fulfilling the role of the "wizard" in the "Hero's Journey" archetype.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

In saying this, there are elements of genius to Rian Johnson's plot once the audience's preconceived ideas for the character fall away. Luke's character arc explores a lonely individual who has went through an incredible amount of tragedy, with Ben Solo's betrayal leaving him at his wit's end. The unique plot gives Mark Hamill the opportunity to take his performance to another level, as his subtle emotional nuances indicate a pull towards his ultimate self-revelation. Hamill's brilliant portrayal demonstrates his cold exterior growing warmer with every minute of screen time, as he begins to recognise elements of his younger self in the optimistic Rey. The script bombards Luke with opportunities for character change as he stubbornly holds his ground. This is particularly demonstrated aboard the familiar Millennium Falcon, during an endearing sequence with R2-D2. It is unfortunate that his self-revelation doesn't come a bit sooner in the film, with the delightfully reminiscent interaction with R2-D2 being the opportune moment to bounce the adventure forward in a more exciting direction.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Daisy Ridley makes her second appearance as Rey, the scavenger turned Jedi warrior, embodying a sense of optimism that is delightful to watch. She shines brightly in this movie, leaving much of the other cast in her wake, perhaps with the exception of Carrie Fischer and Mark Hamill. Opposite Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker she is fantastic, as she attempts to decipher the path she must take to learn the ways of the Force. Her physicality is also tremendous, as she exudes elements of strength and self-reliance along with a determination to do what is right. However, her search for revelations leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the plot, leaving a lot of mystery to her character. At times Rey's character arc seems much too vague, as she manifests abilities at an exponential rate with no real explanation. Her character's background following this film also remains poorly defined, taking the audience's curiosity for granted. Hopefully, this creative choice sets up an earth-shattering reveal during Episode IX.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Adam Driver's depiction of Kylo Ren is utterly fascinating to watch, as he provides deep and thoughtful nuances melded within a highly unstable persona. His charisma is clearly evident from the moment he appears on screen, as he balances his relationship with Rey and Snoke to perfection. The formidable foe does have his share of manic moments, as his seemingly cool and calm exterior is bombarded by a petulant streak of impatience and anguish. His decisions throughout the story are also completely plausible, as he stands tall as one of the most well-developed characters in the film. On the negative side, he never quite reaches the aura emanated by the likes of Darth Vader, which is an unfortunate byproduct of being associated with the legacy of the original trilogy. His interaction opposite Rey is particularly fabulous, as the plot unravels a series of unexpected surprises and shocking moments.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Andy Serkis provides another revolutionary performance with his motion capture work, playing the tremendously evil Supreme Leader Snoke. The mysteriously dark figure is the essential catalyst that brings Rey and Kylo Ren together, as they challenge each other's perceptions of the Force, the dark side and the light. In spite of Andy Serkis' brilliant rage-filled depiction, it has to be said that Snoke's character arc is tremendously underdeveloped. This essentially relegates him to a position where he is irrelevant to the plot. It is an unfortunate turn of events, which sees director Rian Johnson make one of his many poor creative choices. These story decisions leave the audience with a lot of unanswered questions. In saying this, Snoke's throne room scene towards the beginning of the final act creates one of the greatest moments in The Last Jedi. It is a stellar scene that features ingeniously choreographed fight sequences including lightsabers and battling Praetorian Guards. The sequence also provides some interesting revelations. This all leads to one of the most surprising moments in cinema this year.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Carrie Fischer also makes a triumphant return as the incomparable Princess Leia. She is absolutely wonderful in this movie, delivering a sense of wisdom and poise that is fabulous to witness. It is unfortunate that there is not enough screen time allocated to her performance, with the script choosing to focus a significant amount of story towards other characters, pushing them to the forefront. In spite of this, Fisher shines brightly with every moment that she appears on screen. She elegantly falls back into the character of Leia, even more than she did during The Force Awakens. She subsequently channels a sense of sassiness and determination that was very evident in her portrayal throughout the original trilogy. Some immensely enlightening revelations are also discovered about Leia in this movie, creating more depth to her character and her connection to the Force. This information is delivered in a very unusual way, which may be incredibly surprising for the audience.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Oscar Issac appears once again as Resistance fighter Poe Dameron, delivering a character arc that sees him constantly challenged as he learns the ways of leadership. His excitable performance opposite Princess Leia is compelling, as she chaperones him towards a greater role within the rebellion. There are unfortunately not enough scenes between the two, with the plot much too focused on reestablishing Finn and the newly introduced Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern. The trio attempt to service a remarkably underwhelming subplot, involving elements of mutiny and a casino side mission that feels totally out of place within the story. These issues come down to the script rather than their performances. In saying this, Laura Dern's involvement in the film provides an intriguing storyline where much of the audience will be unsure of her motives. On another positive note, Poe's relationship opposite BB-8 is absolutely endearing, as they both share a unique chemistry while simultaneously establishing their tremendous heroism within the franchise.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

John Boyega also returns again in The Last Jedi as Finn. The audience is once again reminded that his healing process, following the tremendous injuries suffered at the hands Kylo Ren. Unlike Kylo Ren however, his physical traumas go greatly unaddressed. Instead, he suddenly jumps into plot, delivering convenient information about the First Orders' operational procedures. Finn's story is primarily intertwined with Poe Dameron and the rebel mechanic Rose, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. It is a character arc that sees him fighting his overwhelming compulsion to run when times get tough. Rose counterbalances this incredibly well due to her immensely optimistic persona.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Finn's inclusion in the movie, however, seems to feel quite anticlimactic. Both Finn and Rose have their fair share of heroic moments as they attempt to establish chemistry and humour during a purposeless subplot within the casino world of Canto Bight. Unfortunately, the whole sequence feels terribly unnecessary to the story. In addition to this, the chemistry between Finn and Rose doesn't seem believable. Worse still, the humour throughout the scenes they are involved in will generally go unnoticed. Kelly Marie Tran does a solid job with the character of Rose, more than holding her ground opposite John Boyega. It is just unfortunate that her character feels shoehorned into the plot, with the intention of giving Finn some kind of love interest. On a positive note, Finn's character arc also serves to reintroduce Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma. This is briefly compelling, as the two collide in an attempt to rectify their differences from The Force Awakens. However, the poorly conceived subplot again reinforces the terrible misuse of the Phasma character. This is once again terribly unfortunate, especially due to her incredibly interesting aesthetic.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

The best moments of the film undeniably come from the brilliant engagement between the original trilogy's cast members. Shared sequences between Luke and R2-D2 as well as Luke and Chewbacca are absolute highlights to remember forever. It is terribly unfortunate that the scenes are much too brief and few and far between. Hamill's shared screen time opposite Carrie Fisher is also a timeless bit of cinema, not only due to the sequence itself, but also courtesy of what the scene represents following Fisher's untimely passing. Each interaction is as heartwarming as the last, taking fans back to the glory days of the Star Wars franchise.

Verdict

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Overall, Star Wars The Last Jedi is an absolutely brilliant film. It's fun action-packed moments and fabulous narrative drive meld together to create an immensely entertaining spectacle. It is also emotionally compelling when it needs to be, relying on some extraordinary performances from the original trilogy's veteran cast. While Mark Hamill is undeniably the greatest strength of the film, the new cast in the form of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver also leave their mark, offering vibrant performances that are exciting to watch. In addition to this, the plot for The Last Jedi is full of surprises, offering at least four sequences that audiences' won't see coming. The film's finale involving Luke Skywalker will also have audiences utterly awestruck, as they witness powerfully creative storytelling at its most unpredictable.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

However, it has to be said that The Last Jedi is a movie that may polarise fans of the original trilogy. As a Star Wars film and story, it is vastly different from what we have seen before. At times the film can feel overly allegorical and pessimistic rather than providing an avenue for escapism. The movie also spends a nauseating amount of time establishing Luke Skywalker's angst, with not enough focus on the wisdom and balance he is able to impart. This leaves the film with what some would perceive as an unsatisfying conclusion. The story also takes bold risks that don't always resonate with what fans know about the characters. As a film, it also has the burden of being associated with the original trilogy. This is especially problematic considering how fantastic the original three films were.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

The strategic reintroduction of many of the original trilogy's main characters is fabulous to see. R2-D2, Chewbacca, C-3PO and the Millennium Falcon all make their presence felt. Although, there is unfortunately not enough screen time allocated to their inclusion. In saying this, each appearance is extremely well executed and tremendously memorable. Some surprise voice-over work and puppetry from Frank Oz also adds to the excitement, providing a key turning point in the film.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

The Last Jedi uncharacteristically threads elements of humour throughout the movie which at times can feel out of context with the momentum of the story. Much of these faux pas moments come from the direction of General Hux. Unlike the original trilogy, the punchlines feel a lot less organic, lacking the timing and delivery that the original cast could provide. In essence The Last Jedi's collection of funny moments can feel slightly forced. As a consequence, much of the attempted humour falls flat, taking vital tension away from the plot.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

From an editing perspective, The Last Jedi is an absolute masterpiece. The editing style clearly pays homage to the original trilogy, delivering tremendously creative transitions that feel very much part of the Star Wars franchise. The film's cinematography and stunning visual effects are also absolutely stellar. Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic undeniably know how to create a visual masterpiece that keeps taking the genre to new heights. John Williams' fabulous musical score is one of the highlights of the movie. He weaves his magic on the franchise once again, conjuring a soundtrack that has a pleasant mix the old trilogy and the new. It is extremely exciting to hear significant callbacks to the original movies, with particular emphasis on Episodes V and VI. The sound design is also fantastic, from the roaring Tie Fighters, to the screeching Porgs, all the way to the humming lightsabers. The intricate attention to detail makes the world of The Last Jedi feel all the more cohesive with the classic Star Wars universe. This makes the entire viewing experience all the more enjoyable.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

In summary, Star Wars The Last Jedi is an amazing spectacle of cinematic delight. Episode VIII is a movie that will definitely need multiple viewings to take in all the grandeur and intricate detail. It is a tremendously admirable effort from Lucasfilm, as they continue to build upon George Lucas' legacy. While the film doesn't quite replicate the ingenious elements found in the original trilogy, the story and characters definitely create so much potential for the future of the franchise. In short, the movie is a must-see on the big screen at your local cinema.

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars The Last Jedi Review


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Why? Luke Skywalker returns in the biggest movie of the year. Star Wars The Last Jedi is the next installment of the epic Star Wars saga.
When: In cinemas everywhere from December 14th.
Website: starwars.com
Where: In cinemas everywhere.
Cost: Price of a movie ticket at your local cinema.
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